Facts & Tools

Understanding non-academic job ads

Job ads reveal a lot about an organization and are instructions on how to apply - but they need to be deciphered. Here are our tips.

  • Job advertisements can serve as inspiration for initial orientation in the non-academic job market: How are requirements worded? What is behind a particular job title?
  • Ads contain important information for a tailored cover letter and CV – you just need to be able to transfer it well.
  • Ads are usually structured in the following sections, but they can also be structured differently. We have listed the most important points here.


The label for a task package: The job title

Never heard of an implementation or key account manager? When you think of a sales position, do you think of a vacuum cleaner salesman?

Job titles alone are often not very meaningful. However, the wording in conjunction with requirements can help with a more advanced search – an account manager at company A may not be the right fit, but at company B it is.

Don’t be put off – first look at the tasks behind the title. Sales in a science-related company, for example, initially requires specialist knowledge, since the customers are, for example, doctors or scientists.

Just search for the job title on the web or on LinkedIn – who does something similar in which organization? Conduct an informational interview.

Example: A neuroscientist works for a health tech company as an implementation manager. She helps medical professionals integrate the product into their workflows.

The company introduces itself: »About us«

Content and jargon say a lot about the company culture. In conjunction with the “What we offer” section, you’ll get a sense of the form of collaboration, whether the company is more conservative or casual in its manners.

Consider beforehand what kind of work environment you would most likely feel comfortable in – what is important to you, and what would you like to avoid at all costs?

Research what else you can find about the company on LinkedIn and the web: Who works there? Are there any reviews about the company? What are the ratings on kununu and glassdoor?

In the cover letter, go into aspects that you like (product, values, etc.). You can also adopt the tone accordingly (e.g. address start-up vs. traditional company).

Example: In the ad for a start-up, you are addressed by your first name, and terms such as “innovative” and “rapid growth” are often used. In the case of a medium-sized company, the address is formal, it’s about “family tradition” or “change” – both companies can be in the same industry! Mirror these tonalities.

Job Profile: »Your Tasks«

As a rule, tasks are listed in descending order of relevance. The company is concerned with finding someone who is the solution to the problem – tasks should be done, the company should develop.

Think about which of the tasks you were familiar with during your PhD or postdoc or as a research assistant. The wording can be different. Often, some tasks can be learned quickly – what could you possibly learn on the job or even before? This might include company-specific software solutions or processes.

Identify recurring keywords – mention them in your CV and cover letter or adapt your language to the company’s wording (have a look at our articles CV and cover letter).

Example: “You will become a true product specialist” – i.e. you score points for being able to quickly learn new topics; “You will present our software via webinars…, identify vulnerabilities and maintain relationships” – these are classic skills of a PhD, give examples where you have succeeded in this in everyday science.

Requirements: »Your profile«

Like the tasks, the requirements are usually listed in descending order of relevance. Companies formulate all the requirements for a candidate – hardly anyone fulfills all of them. However, it is usually easy to identify which requirements are a “must-have” and which are not. Pay attention to notes such as “desirable”, “an advantage”, “a plus”. For example, if you can fulfill 50% of the requirements and generally think you can do the job, that is sufficient for now.

Identify recurring keywords – mention them in your CV and cover letter or adapt your job descriptions to the company’s wording.

Then focus on the most important requirements in your cover letter and link these to the strengths and skills you bring to the job. Use your experience to show how you can specifically fulfill these requirements.

Example: “Proven success in sales, account management and customer care” – your “account” could be, for example, a grant that you have taken the lead in acquiring with collaboration partners. You are marketing ideas to raise money and your experience with students, colleagues, and perhaps industry partners parallels the stewardship of “clients.”

This is what the company offers: »Our Offer«

At present, the job market is an applicant market – i.e., companies have to make an effort to attract talent. Ideally, you can read about this here – and also learn a bit about the company’s self-image. What other benefits are there, such as opportunities for further development, flexible working hours, childcare, and subsidies for public transport?

Do you like the company? Does it offer you benefits that are of great value in addition to the salary and the tasks? You can also negotiate here (e.g. for an 80% position, partial home office, etc.). Make clear beforehand what is important to you in your future working day.

Example: “XY offers a unique opportunity to grow into roles and shape them as you see fit, with flexible hours and remote work policies, an annual budget for training, a company retirement plan, and much more!” – Maybe there’s a sacrifice in salary (doesn’t have to be), but flexibility may be just as important to you.

What is needed and how: Notes on the application process

Sometimes it is stated here when the position is to be filled, when interviews will take place and also what other information is required (salary, starting date). You can also find out how to apply, what documents are required and whether there is a contact person.

Especially with online masks, it is important that you repeat keywords from the ad in your CV and cover letter – this way you will not be sorted out beforehand.

Remember to mention requested information in the cover letter, e.g. earliest start date or salary requirements (inform in advance!).

Don’t be afraid to contact a contact person – but only with questions that you really can’t find an answer to.

Example: all documents should be submitted in one pdf – do not submit two Word documents.